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What's the Difference Between Flotsam and Jetsam?

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Along with serving as the names of two villainous eels in Disney's animated classic The Little Mermaid, the phrase “flotsam and jetsam” is often used to describe the floating debris found in the aftermath of an accident at sea. And while it might initially seem like a strange moniker for maritime wreckage, there's a very good reason for the two-part terminology.

According to maritime law, “jetsam” is the term for anything that is cast overboard or otherwise jettisoned from a distressed ship intentionally, either to lighten the cargo load or as some other reaction to a problem the vessel has encountered. The term can be used to describe anything that finds its way off the ship in this fashion and is discovered floating in the water or washed ashore.

“Flotsam,” on the other hand, is defined as the debris that is unintentionally left behind after a shipwreck, which can include portions of the ship itself, as well as cargo or other items that float to the surface after a ship sinks. (For example, that splintered panel of ornately carved wood that Rose is floating on at the end of Titanic would be considered flotsam—but that certainly didn't help poor Jack.)

Maritime law distinguishes flotsam from jetsam by the presence of intent to remove material from the ship: Basically, if it ended up in the water on purpose, it's jetsam. Everything else floating around the site of the incident is flotsam. This is an important distinction, as some countries have very particular guidelines for how each type of debris should be handled—and who takes ownership of it—that are determined by the category of debris. Laws in the UK once dictated that recovered jetsam be returned to the owner of the vessel, while flotsam became the property of the government.

However, it's worth noting that both of these terms only apply to debris that's floating in the water. Anything that sinks to the bottom of the ocean falls under a new set of terms: “lagan” and “derelict.” And just like with flotsam and jetsam, the difference between the terms depends on how the material got there. Cargo that is left behind intentionally—usually with a buoy attached—in order to be recovered at a later point is called “lagan,” while anything that sinks to the bottom of the ocean without any plans for recovery is described as “derelict.”

Today, all four categories of debris—flotsam, jetsam, lagan, and derelict—are generally grouped together in most countries' maritime laws. However, according to the United Kingdom's Merchant Shipping Act of 1995, flotsam, jetsam, and lagan remain the property of their original owners when discovered by rescuers or salvage agents, but derelict falls under an entirely different and comprehensive set of regulations.

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Big Questions
Are There Number 1 Pencils?
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Almost every syllabus, teacher, and standardized test points to the ubiquitous No. 2 pencil, but are there other choices out there?

Of course! Pencil makers manufacture No. 1, 2, 2.5, 3, and 4 pencils—and sometimes other intermediate numbers. The higher the number, the harder the core and lighter the markings. (No. 1 pencils produce darker markings, which are sometimes preferred by people working in publishing.)

The current style of production is profiled after pencils developed in 1794 by Nicolas-Jacques Conté. Before Conté, pencil hardness varied from location to location and maker to maker. The earliest pencils were made by filling a wood shaft with raw graphite, leading to the need for a trade-wide recognized method of production.

Conté’s method involved mixing powdered graphite with finely ground clay; that mixture was shaped into a long cylinder and then baked in an oven. The proportion of clay versus graphite added to a mixture determines the hardness of the lead. Although the method may be agreed upon, the way various companies categorize and label pencils isn't.

Today, many U.S.  companies use a numbering system for general-purpose, writing pencils that specifies how hard the lead is. For graphic and artist pencils and for companies outside the U.S., systems get a little complicated, using a combination of numbers and letters known as the HB Graphite Scale.

"H" indicates hardness and "B" indicates blackness. Lowest on the scale is 9H, indicating a pencil with extremely hard lead that produces a light mark. On the opposite end of the scale, 9B represents a pencil with extremely soft lead that produces a dark mark. ("F" also indicates a pencil that sharpens to a fine point.) The middle of the scale shows the letters and numbers that correspond to everyday writing utensils: B = No. 1 pencils, HB = No. 2, F = No. 2½, H = No. 3, and 2H = No. 4 (although exact conversions depend on the brand).

So why are testing centers such sticklers about using only No. 2 pencils? They cooperate better with technology because early machines used the electrical conductivity of the lead to read the pencil marks. Early scanning-and-scoring machines couldn't detect marks made by harder pencils, so No. 3 and No. 4 pencils usually resulted in erroneous results. Softer pencils like No. 1s smudge, so they're just impractical to use. So No. 2 pencils became the industry standard.

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Big Questions
What Are Curlers Yelling About?
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Curling is a sport that prides itself on civility—in fact, one of its key tenets is known as the “Spirit of Curling,” a term that illustrates the respect that the athletes have for both their own teammates and their opponents. But if you’re one of the millions of people who get absorbed by the sport once every four years, you probably noticed one quirk that is decidedly uncivilized: the yelling.

Watch any curling match and you’ll hear skips—or captains—on both sides barking and shouting as the 42-pound stone rumbles down the ice. This isn’t trash talk; it’s strategy. And, of course, curlers have their own jargon, so while their screams won’t make a whole lot of sense to the uninitiated, they could decide whether or not a team will have a spot on the podium once these Olympics are over.

For instance, when you hear a skip shouting “Whoa!” it means he or she needs their teammates to stop sweeping. Shouting “Hard!” means the others need to start sweeping faster. If that’s still not getting the job done, yelling “Hurry hard!” will likely drive the point home: pick up the intensity and sweep with downward pressure. A "Clean!" yell means put a brush on the ice but apply no pressure. This will clear the ice so the stone can glide more easily.

There's no regulation for the shouts, though—curler Erika Brown says she shouts “Right off!” and “Whoa!” to get her teammates to stop sweeping. And when it's time for the team to start sweeping, you might hear "Yes!" or "Sweep!" or "Get on it!" The actual terminology isn't as important as how the phrase is shouted. Curling is a sport predicated on feel, and it’s often the volume and urgency in the skip’s voice (and what shade of red they’re turning) that’s the most important aspect of the shouting.

If you need any more reason to make curling your favorite winter sport, once all that yelling is over and a winner is declared, it's not uncommon for both teams to go out for a round of drinks afterwards (with the winners picking up the tab, obviously). Find out how you can pick up a brush and learn the ins and outs of curling with our beginner's guide.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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